In the midst of the largest security crisis in the region and in Europe, Moldova is at a historic turning point. The decision to apply for EU membership on March 3rd confirms Moldova’s unequivocal desire to firmly anchor itself in the free world.

The aspirations of Moldovan citizens to join the European Union have only grown stronger in the thirty years since independence. It has not been an easy road, but today we face a historic decision: the Republic of Moldova will be granted EU candidate status. We hope that the Heads of State or Government of the European Union will recognize this unique geopolitical opportunity and will support our application for membership at the European Council on 23-24 June. A geopolitical opportunity that increases security, defends EU values ​​and makes the Union stronger.

Our path to European integration was not easy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova, like the Baltic states, had an opportunity for European integration but missed it. We watched with joy as Romania, our closest partner and ally, became a member of the EU, which inspired us to follow the same path. But for the first two decades, the independent Republic of Moldova instead went through painful economic and social changes. The conflict in the Transnistria region further hampered our development efforts.

Despite numerous disappointments with the political class over the years, our European aspirations have always taken precedence over Soviet nostalgia. Democracy has always found a way to prevail.

In thirty years, every change of government in Moldova has been through peaceful elections. All governments that tried to introduce autocracy or undermine democracy were voted out. Most importantly, all governments, good and bad, have sought close ties with the EU.

In 2019, the Moldovan people threw the crooks out of government. They overwhelmingly voted for a new, clean, pro-European political class in the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 general election. The newly elected political class relies on integrity, transparency and clean political financing. Since last year, the country has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda led by a strongly committed, pro-European president, parliament and government.

The review of judges and prosecutors is well underway, and we are working to strengthen the integrity and independence of our judicial system. According to the 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Moldova ranks 40th, having climbed a whopping 49 places in just one year, alongside thriving democracies like Australia and many EU countries.

Furthermore, the EU has become our most important political, trade and investment partner. Two thirds of the country’s exports are already going to the EU market, thus contributing to Moldova’s EU integration. The reform-oriented government introduced policies to facilitate doing business and improve the investment climate in Moldova.

The positive growth trend in the Republic of Moldova seemed unstoppable until the early morning of February 24th when the first Russian bombs fell on our neighboring country Ukraine. The devastation of the Russian war in Ukraine is felt in Moldova every day. The inflation rate shot up to 29 percent. Gas prices have soared more than fivefold in less than a year, many eastern trade routes have been closed and security risks have increased, hampering investment.

Despite all this, Moldovans opened their hearts and homes to thousands of Ukrainian refugees. Almost half a million of them have crossed the borders of Moldova since the beginning of the war. About 80,000 are still in Moldova, representing a nearly 3 percent increase in population. It was a big challenge, but nothing stopped us from doing whatever we could to help the war refugees.

This senseless war against Ukraine reminds us that peace and freedom cannot be taken for granted. Moldova’s EU bid stems from our strong desire to remain part of the free world. We firmly believe that only as part of the EU can we consolidate and maintain our democracy.

Moldova’s accession to the EU is a decision based on the aspirations of our people. One in three Moldovans is already an EU citizen. Many work and study in the EU. You’ve probably come across us – we’re your bank teller, your nurse, your child’s classmate. Moldovans live side by side with Europeans, contributing to social security systems, paying taxes and enriching the EU’s cultural heritage.

A European Republic of Moldova will not only ensure more stability in Europe and the East, but also boost trade, increase prosperity and stabilize the region. It also offers an opportunity to reach a peaceful solution to the Transnistria conflict. This in turn enables us to reintegrate the region into Moldova and further strengthen our country. Most importantly, a European Moldova will help achieve the EU’s core goal – to keep the peace on the continent.

There is still a lot to do at home. Many of the reforms demanded by the EU are precisely the changes that our citizens are demanding from government. And we will fulfill them. We don’t ask for shortcuts and we don’t expect any concessions. In these difficult times, Moldova asks for just one opportunity to give hope to its citizens. Hope that a safer, more democratic and more peaceful Moldova is still possible. Hope that they can still return to a free and pro-European Moldova.

It is said that history repeats itself. Moldova has always been a European country involved in geopolitical disputes. This time we are counting on your support to bring Moldova back into the big European family and to support its European perspective for a more peaceful and stable region.

Maia Sandu is the President of the Republic of Moldova. She is the first woman to hold this office and was Prime Minister in 2019.